Burlington Coat Factory is seeking to squelch rumors that its store in downtown Spokane is closing.
Store employees blame the rumors on scuttlebutt that the building in which Burlington Coat leases space may be targeted for redevelopment.
A real estate agent for the building, which was the downtown Penney’s store until it moved to NorthTown a few years ago, confirms that the concept of converting the structure to parking use has been bandied about.
But rather than close the outlet, David A. Black of James S. Black & Co. says the idea is to move the store across Post Street into the empty old Crescent Store addition. Either that, or new quarters could be created as part of the planned redevelopment of the River Park Square shopping complex across Main.
Barring that, Burlington Coat could relocate a couple blocks further east into space only now being vacated by Lamonts and J. J. Newberry.
However, Burlington Coat staffers say they keep hearing that uppity retail neighbors would like to boot them on out of the neighborhood. In some eyes, Burlington Coat, a self-styled upscale discounter, doesn’t fit the higher-styled image the retail core is striving to project.
Whatever, Angel Guzman, Western regional manager in El Paso for Burlington Coat, says his company is not going. He informed me he had just returned from meetings at corporate headquarters in Burlington, N.J. “There is no plan to close this or any other store in the West,” he said.
If there were such a plan for his region, he says, “I would be the first to know.”
But just to be sure, he asked me to “confirm” it with corporate headquarters back East, which I did. “The rumors that we are closing in downtown Spokane are not true,” declared media relations manager Rick Bramble. He had not even heard the rumors before.
But Guzman confessed, “I’ve heard the rumors. I have no idea where they came from.”
Well, I can tell them one place. Inside the store. It is operating with a skeleton staff. Many have been let go. All this, various levels of store and departmental managers assured me, is normal after the holiday rush.
But there are other reasons for the unease that exists among employees. Underlying their nervousness, a number of them told me, are the company’s earnings and stock performance, which have been under some duress of late.
Then, too, store personnel tell me top managers here are on vacation. The thrust being, higherups don’t want to get caught with vacation time coming if closure is imminent. Hence, reading between the lines, some store veterans already have their applications out.
The rumors are widespread - not just in the store, but up and down the street, including River Park Square. A spokesperson for the shopping complex, which is being completely redesigned as a regional specialty shopping center, offered a somewhat oblique response.
“We’re not really up to speed on the rumors you report to us,” said Bob Robideaux, property manager for real estate affiliates of this newspaper, which own River Park Square.
“All of our planning right now is based on the River Park Square property,” he said. “It would be premature to announce anything.”
But Robideaux said, “I’d be very surprised if Burlington Coat closed downtown.” And he added, “I think it’s interesting to hear all the ideas coming from people in Spokane. Maybe some of them will work.”
Meantime, acting store manager Deanna Larson told me a blockade of Burlington Coat’s skybridge link to the Crescent Court block is cutting into trade.
Larson, who is running the store while manager Jerry Vandervert is away on vacation, said the company has its attorney working on the problem.
It involves a tiff between owners of the redeveloped Crescent Court section of the former Crescent Store complex and the above-mentioned Crescent addition. The closed skywalk section runs through both properties.
Inability of the parties to reach agreement has sparked a massive signature campaign calling on the city to resolve the matter, either by mediation or by public edict.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review